As he steps off the practice field and walks into a hallway, Drey Trosclair sees the white helmets stacked neatly on a rolling cart. And he smiles.
Trosclair takes each small victory or milestone as noteworthy as Lee High prepares for its first football season since 2008. The Class 4A Patriots are set to play a junior varsity schedule for two years and varsity in 2021. The route to the varsity end game must have meaning, according to Trosclair.
“It’s been fun, just to see the progression from where we started off in February. There has been so much, from ordering everything — helmets and shoulder pads, footballs, practice gear and new weight-room equipment,” Trosclair said. “Not only have the coaches been fundraising, but we’ve also had team fundraisers and community service projects. We’re trying to put ourselves out in the community to show everybody ‘Hey, Lee High has football again.’ We’re trying to get people excited.”
Generating excitement for a future that won’t include a varsity game for two years sounds difficult. The actions of approximately 50 players taking part in a conditioning practice Wednesday morning, shows that excitement exists and can be contagious. Even after a 6 a.m. community service project and a weight-lifting session.
“I always wanted to play football. My mom didn’t want me to play because she was scared about concussions. But when she found out we were getting a football team, she jumped on it and let me play,” senior running back Brandon Bell said. “It’s a good education here. Now it’s a good opportunity to have a full high school experience. I think all kids should have the opportunity to experience Friday night lights or Wednesday night lights. And to have homecoming games.”
Bell and offensive/defensive lineman Raymond Hunt are among the 16 seniors. Like many of their upper-class teammates, both attended Sherwood Middle Magnet, which does not offer athletics. The fact Lee will host nine JV games at Olympia Stadium is nice. Homecoming has not been set, but the other football staples are in place.
Trosclair said his staff and players have raised enough money to order between $70,000 and $75,000 worth of equipment and gear. The weight room that once looked like a fitness center with treadmills and ellipticals now has 16 stations with free weights. Two five-man blocking sleds were purchased along with helmets, one set of uniforms, football and practice gear for a squad that now includes 67 players.
Locker room space is limited at the magnet school that reopened on the traditional Lee High spot in 2016 after a $54.7 million rebuild. An area under the bleachers on one side of the gymnasium is the locker room until funds to build a field house can be raised.
The locker room issue exists because the school was built as a magnet school that would offer some sports, but not football. When the addition of football was announced last fall, the head coaching job attracted 60 applicants, including the 29-year-old Trosclair, who led Ascension Catholic to Division IV select runner-up titles the last two seasons.
“This school is large enough that every day I see at least one kid I’ve never seen before. At a 1A school, you see every kid every day. If I see a big kid, I’ll ask ‘Why don’t you play football?’ ” Trosclair said. “He may be a band guy or a quiz bowl guy. There are so many different dynamics here.”
The Patriots played an intrasquad spring game, which attracted parents and staff who lined the soccer field behind the school with lawn chairs. Expectations are high in all sports, particularly in light of a Division II select girls basketball title won in March.
“I played football at BREC, back in the day, was I was little. The last time was when I was 12 or 13,” the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hunt said. “It surprises me how you can get a group of people to come together and play together. People here are excited about (football).”
Two former Lee stars who went on to the NFL, Eugene Daniel and Leonard Smith, were in attendance when the school announced its plan to add football last fall. The goals of the current players are modest, but vital in Trosclair’s eyes.
A JV schedule that features some of the area’s top programs, including Zachary, Catholic High, East Ascension, Southern Lab and Plaquemine is designed to provide a glimpse of expectations for a team expected to build Lee’s new football foundation.
“I’m hoping we can have a winning season and watch these younger guys grow," Bell said. "After we go off to college, I want to be able to come back and see a great program in place that started with this team. I want to help pave the way."